Napoleon once said that leaders are dealers in hope. That sounds like a sacred quality to me.
When I lived in the monastery as a Catholic priest, 20% of my superiors thought they were Divinely inspired. Now that I’m working in Corporate America, the number’s up to 80%.
In my company, I’m one of the few who have a core competency for dealing with executives who believe themselves to be infallible. My CEO has even recognized this skill and has me reporting directly to him to assist in changing the company’s culture. Oddly enough, my years in the Church gave me some decent skills for succeeding in the business world. I often feel that the jobs have proven to be quite similar, except the pay is now a lot better. Much of my work continues to remain priestly: building community, repairing trust , offering hope and trying to heal an inherently flawed human system.
Morale continues to remain dismal in most companies and employee surveys reveal three disturbing trends: nobody trusts, workers don’t believe senior management and employees are too stressed out to care. Problems with trust, belief and caring. When I lived behind the cloistered walls, we referred to these dynamics as a crisis of Faith, Hope and Charity.
Corporate America is facing a spiritual problem as much as a fiscal one. Napoleon once said that leaders are dealers in hope. That sounds like a sacred quality to me. So, maybe it’s not all that surprising that the job of today’s executive is as much spiritual as it is managerial.
Even though prayer cards now outnumber Dilbert cartoons in employees’ cubicles, talking about what is holy in the workplace leaves most corporate managers somewhat in a quandary. How do engineers and accountants become both astute business leaders as well as proficient spiritual guides? Addressing this predicament is a bit trickier than streamlining business processes or outsourcing operations overseas. Engaging the heart and soul of employees to gain business success is no easy task. While throwing money and corporate perks at workers garnishes their compliance, it does little to guarantee their commitment. And as we’re increasingly coming to discover: if you don’t get commitment from employees, the business falters.
Commitment is not something that can be coerced or conscribed, it can only be invited. It comes as much from the heart as from the head. Employees won’t bestow it if they mistrust their leaders. Monks seem to understand what’s required for soliciting people’s commitment; many business leaders don’t. It’s probably because much of their education was spent on measuring, managing and marketing. Not inviting.
Courses in business school seldom explore the sacred component of leadership’s responsibility . I wonder if that's partly responsible for the high turnover in the executive suite? Today’s corporate leaders may have lost their godly compass, and consequently the loyalty of their workers. Some form of Divine Retribution may be underway for those residing in the corner offices.
The good news is that there’s a host of employees out there yearning to throw their commitment behind a leader who is making even small progress in mastering the art of invitation. The ancient Greeks used to say that in the land of the blind, the Cyclops rule. It is such a rare business skill that it seems leaders don’t even need to do it well. Merely making the effort to abandon coercion in favor of invitation appears sufficient. Employees seem to be instinctively drawn to officers who are giving it a try.
To separate the authentic leaders from those approaching it as just another management fad, discriminating workers are applying the same criteria as Supreme Court Judge Potter Stewart used in identifying pornography: I know it when I see it. Like plants drawn to light, workers are inherently attracted to leaders who are sincerely implementing this refreshing skill. These executives represent a type of heliotropic leadership in the rugged jungle of business life. They radiate a hallowed luminescence that employees gravitate towards and are nurtured by. With this type of leadership, corporate toxicity is kept to a minimum and a form of workplace photosynthesis takes place.
P.S. If you’re thinking about writing me, give in to the temptation. I love getting mail ... and being influenced by what you have to say. Please contact me at www.kennythemonk.com
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